There's a big debate going on about whether or not we should be paying for the music we listen to, fueled by a somewhat thoughtful blog post by Emily White, intern at NPR's All Things Considered; and general manager of WVAU, the radio station at American University. (Read her post here: I Never Owned Any Music to Begin With) There are a lot of impassioned responses online, most notably this one from musician David Lowry, of Cracker and Camper van Beethoven fame. (Read it here.) Come back when you're done reading.
The gist of all this kerfluffle is that Ms. White, who works in the music industry and should know better, owns 11,000 tunes, of which she has paid for very few.To be fair, her post was meant to be more about the convenience of living in the world of on-demand digital music instead of buying CDs, but in there she definitely advocates the position that it's okay to download music for free -- in part because it's just so easy to do so. Like, it's hard work to actually go to a store (or click to Amazon) and buy a physical CD, or whip out your credit card while online to buy a track from the iTunes Store. Don't bother us with that inconvenience; we want access to an unlimited library of music right now, and we don't want to have to pay for any of it!
I actually agree with the first part of that supposition; the idea of immediate online access to every track ever recorded sounds pretty sweet to me, and is coming close to fruition with some of the newer streaming music services. But expecting all that music to be free? Not really.
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I expect to pay for the goods and services I receive. I know lots of folks disagree, but there's no such thing as a free lunch. If I want the snow plowed from my street or my grandkids to receive a decent education, I expect to pay for it (via taxes, of course). If I download an album from my favorite artist, I expect to pay for that, too. That's because the people who produce these things deserve to be compensated for their hard work. I don't work for free, and I doubt that you do, either. We want to be paid for the work we do. Same thing with musicians; they produce this great music that we enjoy listening to, and they have bills to pay just like us. We should pay them for their music. End of argument.
When you download music from an unauthorized file sharing site or BitTorrent, you're depriving those musicians of much-needed income. That's stealing. You're also devaluing their work; you're saying that the great music they produce is worth nothing. Zero. Zilch. No value at all. I find that insulting.
I have a lot of problems with illegal file sharing sites, both as a music lover and as a musician. As a music lover, I'm appalled by the low quality of most of what's available, and also by the inconsistency; since you're relying on what other people upload, you never quite know what it is you're really getting. There's also a big problem with spyware and viruses, which are rampant among pirated files; I can't tell you how many times I've had to clean up my stepson's computer when he was big into the file sharing thing.
As a musician, I view these sites as what they are -- pirates. Every track downloaded from one of these sites steals money that should be going to the musicians who created the music. And if the musicians don't get paid, they'll eventually quite making the music. Let's see how everybody feels then.
Now, a little bit of sharing is to be expected. Hell, I did my share of taping friends' albums when I was back in college, but that was small scale stuff -- and I still bought a lot of music, including a lot of the albums that I'd previously taped. You'll get no argument from me that passing a CD from friend to friend is a great way to sample new music, and often results in legitimate purchases from new fans.
But to build an 11,000-track library, little of it obtained legitimately, is a problem. Even though Ms. White is an intern now (meaning she's working for free -- at least for the summer), she will eventually venture out into the real world of rents and car payments and such, and desire (nay, need) to be paid for her work. I don't think she'd appreciate the rest of us "sampling" her work for free and expecting her to pay the bills by selling t-shirts on the side. If Ms. White does her job, she should be paid for it -- just the way hard-working musicians should be paid for the job they do.
Bottom line, downloading music for free is stealing, and puts the musicians you love out of work. Don't do it.